@Arizona: Lost 6-4, Won 6-2
@Cincinnati: Won 8-2, Won 3-2, Lost 7-5
New York: Won 6-3, Lost 9-2, Won 5-3
Toronto: Won 5-4, Lost 11-7, Lost 5-4, Lost 7-1
@Baltimore: Won 8-4
THE BIG STORY: Things were looking particularly grim when we last Brokedown. Perhaps reanimated by my cogent analysis, the Tribe started to battle back, gutting out three straight series wins against quality opponents before, yep, basically giving that progress away with three straight home losses against the Jays headed into the break. Such is baseball.
The big story is something we've all heard before—no AL Central team seems to have that special mixture of desire and capability that makes winning a division a reasonable proposition. Only the Twins materially changed their place in the standings in the last couple weeks, spawning an incredibly, incredibly irritating Twitter hashtag and matching t-shirts. That's right folks, the Twins are here to claim their throne as the team that limps to the Central crown before being exposed as an absolute pretender in the playoffs. They say it's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all but, frankly, I'd rather not watch baseball than cheer for the Twins early playoff exits each year. Who will be the game one starter? Baker or Pavano?!? Is Slowey still in the majors??! I DON'T KNOW!
THE BEST THING GOING: Santana is exploding, in a good way, with a 9:11 BB:K ratio and a .605 slugging percentage in his last twelve games, he's looking like the offensive centerpiece many anticipated. Overall, the offense has looked just dandy, spewing about five runs a game with Hafner, Sizemore, and Asdruball all hitting well over the last two weeks. Lonnie Chisenhall's debut has also been satisfactory—he's obviously a rookie but he's currently outhitting Hannahan and his glovework hasn't been totally abysmal.
On the mound, just keep looking towards Justin Masterson. 4 appearances (only 3 starts because of his relief stint on July 9 against Toronto), 23 innings pitched, 20 strikeouts, 5 walks, and only 5 runs surrendered. Masterson has the 8th lowest ERA among AL starters. I think a number of people were bullish on our delightful sidearmer before the season but this all still feels a little odd—how good is Masterson, really? After all, the guy with the tenth best ERA in the league is Philip Humber.
NOT AS GOOD AS IT LOOKS: I've defended Chris Perez in this space before but the peripheral numbers haven't gotten any better; his ERA remains low but he's still not striking anyone out and he handed the Blue Jays the game on July 9 after the Indians had clawed back to tie it in the top of the ninth. There certainly doesn't look like there's anything wrong with him but at some point he needs to start sitting fools down at a rate that justifies his cult status as a fireballing madman.
Carrasco and Carmona did not have good stretches, of course. Oh wait, Carmona hasn't had a good season. That's what I meant to write.
WHAT'S ABOUT TO HAPPEN: The Indians have already seen five big league debuts this season (Vinnie Pestano, Josh Judy, Zach McAllister, Ezequiel Carrera and Lonnie Chisenhall), a number that seems very high for a contender, and another one may be in the offing. Despite a couple of big hits, Orlando Cabrera's OPS went down over the last two weeks, and continues to zoom towards a sub-600 number. Luis Valbuena, who arrived in Cleveland this season through a mixture of LaPortian AAA performance and roster management rationales, is no longer allowed to audition for a full-time second base job. Meanwhile, the Jasons, Donald and Kipnis, have both been raking at AAA. Kipnis was tagged the two-bagger of the future from the time he started pounding AA pitching, but Donald performed admirably last year at the position and, were it not for his fragility, likely would've already seen time there again this season.
The Indians had three AAA players, in Kipnis, Donald, and Phelps, that had a real chance of being an upgrade at the Indians worst offensive position. This is an enviable position and, with the Phelps bullet apparently having been spent in the eyes of Acta, I see no reason that the club shouldn't chamber another round. Many in the scouterrazzi think it ought to be Kipnis, especially after he homered off of (arguably) the best pitching prospect in baseball, Julio Tehran, in the Futures game. I don't think it would surprise anyone to see him and Chisenhall in the same infield again, very soon.